Monthly Archives: June 2016

64% done with Middlemarch


Fred is going to have to earn his keep and Caleb is going to be the techer. But at least he has something he knows he can work at to win Mary’s hand, unlike Dorothea who has no path available to her.

Fred’s father is a pain. Typical middle class loading over someone with their own success and making everyone else feel small. Caleb is compassionate as we should be and not “superior” to others.

64% done with Middlemarch

Great insght: “Caleb was in a difficulty known to any person attempting in dark times and unassisted by miracle to reason with rustics who are in possession of an undeniable truth which they know through a hard process of feeling, and can let it fall like a giant’s club on your neatly carved argument for a social benefit which they do not feel.”

Upside-Down Cake: Read on June 23, 2016

Disclaimer: I never look at the name of the author before reading a story in the New Yorker, I cover it up with my hand so as not to be influenced by gender, race, or if they’re famous already. I take each story as it is with no preconceived notions.

This was a lot of fun, evil fun, but the sort of fun you’d like to have to get back at people who have been making you miserable.

Basically this is all a set up for our narrator to get back at their family. We learn everyone else is a gossip and a backbiter and generally miserable, but we never learn why the narrator is – until the end. Once we learn the narrator’s secret everyone in the family who had been maybe not quite a real character, or a bit of a generic blob, snap into focus. And the narrator isn’t exempt, either. They are just as guilty of being a bastard (pun intended, I suppose) as everyone else.

I find this to be a strange story because a lot of it is pretty generic, though with some very clever writing in it: “We had betrayed one another too many times to be able to sit comfortably around the same table together.”, and “Every visit to an aged parent is in the nature of a farewell.” In fact I was starting to think this was going to be yet another New Yorker dud that paints broad strokes about people who the author stereotypes and speaks in cliches – that’s a popular genre in this magazine, unfortunately.

Yet I think the author senses how dull a lot of these stories are and plays us for fools. He gives us a generic set up full of Roz Chast cut-outs (except for Floyd and Granma) and then turns it on its head. When we learn who the couple are that arrives late to the party and we see how the narrator was testing everyone there to see if they’d give the newcomers a chance, we learn to not take everything at face value, to look a little deeper under the surface.

Don’t judge. That’s a simple moral lesson, but we never learn it.

90% done with Upside-Down Cake

I guess her cooking was not so great. I don’t think she cares, either. She cooked meals for people who refused to like them.

Who are the new people? They took attention away from Granma, that’s bad.

This could be any family, and I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. Not a lot of full characters here except Granma and Floyd.

60% done with Upside-Down Cake

Personal note : I never understood how some people could enjoy a thing that is making everyone else involved miserable. How do you not let that tension creep in? Maybe I’m not good at spite.

They’re in Boston or Massachusetts. I actually figured that at the clam chowder and soda crackers line, not the ‘wicked bad’. I miss my people

40% done with Upside-Down Cake

Interesting history lesson of Cuba and the boat named Granma.

The cast of characters seem a little stock, like a Roz Chast cartoon. Floyd is fun, however. No idea about the narrator yet.

“We had betrayed one another too many times to be able to sit comfortably around the same table together. ” I like these little insights so far.

63% done with Middlemarch


I doubt there has been a more insightful novel written about the middle class than this one. All the rules and norms and veiled, passive aggressive posturing hat makes up a society lacking great money but with a little education (and perhaps too much religion). I feel bad for Dorothea. She loves Will, and her feelings are not just as a woman’s but as a person’s. Who hasn’t longed deeply and been denied? Hurts

62% done with Middlemarch


Up until now we could until guess what Dorothea really felt about Will. We knew how he feels about her, but her feelings were layered. We could since she felt for Will but she betrayed nothing, not even to herself. And now that she’s alone we finally get her admission and just when there should be every possibility of happiness, she (and Will) are furthest from it because of everyone around them: Middlemarch.

The Bog Girl: Read on June 15, 2016

All I could think of was Tom Petty’s famous video where he dances with a dead Kim Basinger to his song “Last Dance With Mary Jane”. Also, Weekend At Bernie’s.

This story is really uneven. On the one hand it’s (maybe?) about how we fall in love with the idea of a person but then as we get to know them discover either we love them more or they horrify us and we dump them. On the other it’s comical and not very serious. And I’m not even sure what the story is really trying to tell us about anything.

I found the humor too detached and that didn’t jive well with other parts of the story that are really well written and (seemingly) headed somewhere interesting. But like the Bog Girl herself the story is impossible to really understand and in the end we have to toss it back into the bog.

There are also some editing choices that are poorly thought out. I’m guessing the New Yorker doesn’t suggest changes to a story but this could have benefited from some editing (rearranging sections and dropping unnecessary words) and someone should have challenged the author more to make a stronger point. What exactly are we supposed to take away from this tale? Just being strange is not enough to make it worthwhile.

I do feel that there is the possibility of a great story in here, I just don’t think the story is there yet – it’s sort of like Tim Burton’s later work that didn’t seem to have a strong theme. The characters are not very well fleshed out except for the mother but we don’t get enough of her to really know her.

Maybe if the author had given us a better narrator – maybe the mother? – then we would have a stronger story, something about a mother’s fear of another woman taking her son away. To me that seems to be the solution here if I were adapting this to a screenplay.

I did like this story, however, despite it’s weaknesses. There is some very good imagery and I feel as if a stronger story were floating somewhere just below the surface of another bog.

60% done with The Bog Girl

If we swapped the firs twoparagraphs, then gave no dialogue (inner or extrenal) to Cillian and only showed him holding her and Then had written “Cell fell in love” (drop the rapidly, it’s unnecessary) we would have established this character better.

They’re watching TV together? HA! Love the strangeness of that. “He’s 15, she’s 2000”.

40% done with The Bog Girl

I could do without some of the “humor”, this feels like too serious of a story to ruin with off-the-cuff language.

We haven’t established Cillian as a character yet to make this protective image of him and his judgment of the people around him believable yet. I feel like we’re going too fast. It’s jarring

20% done with The Bog Girl

Switching the paragraphs would make the joke about Cillian’s proximity to the job site better because then we’d already have been given the far-flung locale first (“not really on the circuit”).

Start big then get closer to the characters

Why are young men always written as having some weird sex fantasy – it’s cliche. Boys need to be written better.

10% done with The Bog Girl

“While operating heavy machinery” that line feels awkward. Couldn’t you just say the name of the machine: “While operating a backhoe …”?

Ah, this second paragraph really should be the first paragraph. That would tie in better with Cillian’s “celery green eyes” as an image working outward (I mean start with the natural image then give that image to the character through his eyes).

Trafalgar: Read from June 12 to June 14, 2016

A writer has to have a certain confidence to be able to tell a story about how everything was lost: a love, a friend, a life, and a battle. Yet in losing we get a glimpse at how Galdos perceived the Spanish character in all its forms. We have characters who are tremendous braggarts, old men still filled with the passions of youth, society women so wrapped up in fashion and gossip as to be beyond clowns. Galdos paints with a broad brush and though we never dig very deep into these characters, he, unlike any other writer I can think of, is both satirical and empathetic at the same time to everyone on the page.

The story is straightforward: our young hero is plucked from the streets and made a servant in a good home, falls in love with the lady of the hours, goes off with the master of the house to a glorious yet disastrous naval battle, comes home and decides to leave his adopted family and live a life of adventure at sea. The writing too is straightforward, Galdos had been a journalist and uses simple language to tell his story and sticks to the facts but never leaves out the appropriate time to add some color.

This is an adventure tale, the first of many in a series of “National Episodes” (a serial) and it sets the stage for what Spain had become. No longer was she the glory of Europe, she had become a relic, her court was not to be taken serious, her Navy lumbering and ill managed, her men full of false ideas of glory too late in life, and her women fed up with the men. A strange setting then to set an adventure story of a young man to learn about life, yet what Galdos does so well is to show us how people behave, for good or for bad. He wants the reader to take his Spain seriously, though he’s just as able to laugh at his country too.

At the heart of the tale is a caution against allowing someone else to rule over us. Here the French tell the Spanish how to fight the battle, and lose (Napoleon says “I can’t be everywhere”), and our narrator too walks away from a life of service even though that means leaving the woman he loves and can never, ever have. He has to find his own way, a new way, even if that leads to disaster, as it did for his master.

And deeper still is Galdos showing us how important it is to know whom to believe about anything. On every page there are people telling him this or that, some of it true, some not, and it’s up to him (and us, ultimately) to learn to be discerning. Because to just rush off and act on emotion can lead to ruin just as bad information can ruin us, but there is also truth to be found between lies and being able to see that is a life-long lesson.

I believe Galdos was fascinated by what contradicts people. In one breath a character can be a buffoon and also wise. And as he ends the novel on a clear winter’s day, our narrator instead of seeing the world as it is, sees it as a summer day with the warm breezes, the orange trees, the roses in bloom: he sees the potential but also the contradictions between winter and summer, the contradictions that live inside each of us.

57% done with Trafalgar

For years I’ve been wanting to read a good book about Age of Sail naval battles. I tried Master and Commander, but found it over written, and other books here and there just didn’t do it for me. This, however! This is a sea story like you dream of! he battle scene of Chapter XI is fantastic, edge of your seat action. I love this book!

54% done with Trafalgar

Each set of characters we meet is more eccentric than the previous. I think what Glados is doing here is showing us how unfit and outclassed the Spanish were against Nelson and the English. We see what Spain became by the end of their power.

The descriptions of the city and especially of them sailing out of Port is beautiful! Very romantic but it’s in keeping with the narrator who is only 14-15.

page 116 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader

Most of what he wrote was a first draft. The only thing he would really change was repition, and he would change any repeated words for their synonym.

I assume his revising was all done beforehand in his preparation for writing. Yet he didn’t outline and he left behind few notes. He did have lots of maps, train schedules, and even family trees for his National Episodes, bhishe just wrote.

page 102 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader

Trafalgar was a large success. And it’s success was even literary in its retelling in that University Medical students were smuggling the book into lectures and so instead of learning the science of healing a Spaniard, they were learning the morality of healing one (at the expense of malpractice).

Putting the National flag on the cover was a clever marketing touch.

page 90 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader

“It was so pleasant to dream that he was reluctant to come into contact with reality.”

He very much is a person who drinks in everything around him, filters it in his own way, then transforms it to the page. His minatures, his journalism , his wanderings around Madrid taking in the “flavor”, he’s been soaking this up for a long time.

page 71 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader

“In his worship of the indigenous and the popular Glados often finds sublimity where someone less [though I’d word it as “more cynical”] prejudiced might see only bad taste.”

What I find unique about Glados is that he can see both extremes – he loves Spain and is able to see the reasons even in Spain’s bad behvaior, but he can also see the ridiculous and banal in it, too. He’s uncommonly fair and observant.

60% done with Middlemarch


I really liked this chapter because not only is it very straight forward in its plot (no obscure political refreneces) but also straightforward in Fred’s and Mary’s feelings for each other, and especially here’s for what she wants to see him accomplish (or not, as in being clergy)